Linguistics thread

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Linguistics thread

Postby Yserenhart » 2014-03-01, 22:14

We have many forums for learning various languages, and using them; however, learning and using languages isn't the full picture of language, for where there is language use, there is also the study of language. So, let us have a place to discuss that study. A more serious and formal corner of the forum, where we can discuss academically all the various things that are behind languages.

A few ground rules for this thread:
1. Discussion should be kept academic and serious. The rest of the General Language forum can be used for casual discussion.
2. Sources and citations are good. Academic discussion depends on them, so don't leave them behind.
3. Multiple posts are more acceptable here. If you're going to reply to a couple of different discussions, and some of those replies will be quite long, split them so each post only covers one discussion (although multiple posts of just a couple of sentences each are still discouraged).
4. If you reply to something, please quote it. When quoting please also leave out anything that you're not replying to, as quotes may get quite long. Please also make use of the hide tag when quoting longer posts (although this can only be used once per post).

I know there's a lot of areas of linguistics that can be discussed, and a single thread for all of them may get a bit muddled, but if the level of activity proves to be enough, we'll consider creating a proper forum for linguistics.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby razlem » 2014-03-07, 20:45

Why is studying conlangs as a formal field rejected/scoffed at by linguists?

One would think, because of the grammatical variability, that linguists would want to study the acquisition of different systems (the acquisition of Lojban or Klingon comes to mind).
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby linguoboy » 2014-03-07, 21:04

razlem wrote:Why is studying conlangs as a formal field rejected/scoffed at by linguists?

Citations, please? My experiences with the Lojban community suggest otherwise.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby razlem » 2014-03-07, 21:09

linguoboy wrote:Citations, please? My experiences with the Lojban community suggest otherwise.

Interesting. Certainly hasn't been my experience. Several professors I've contacted at different universities have told me that their college "is only interested in formal studies" after mentioning that I was interested in studying constructed languages.

One of my acquaintances, a university professor himself, gave me his reason for not pursuing conlang research:
At least not any well-planned and thought-out research because, honestly, I don’t want people to write me off....I still encounter people who get deeply angry that I would even mention conlangs let alone teach a class on them (which I also do).
Last edited by razlem on 2014-03-07, 21:11, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby mōdgethanc » 2014-03-07, 21:10

It might be that linguists have a dim outlook on them because to be blunt, most conlangs are amateurish in every sense of the word, and the ones that are both a) complete, workable languages and b) interesting enough to not just be another fucking Euroclone, are few and far between.

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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Levike » 2014-03-07, 21:13

One reason I could think of is that constructed language mainly work like living ones.
It's like "Why create it in a lab when you can study it in nature".

And modge: What's your problem with European languages?
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby linguoboy » 2014-03-07, 21:37

Levente wrote:One reason I could think of is that constructed language mainly work like living ones.
It's like "Why create it in a lab when you can study it in nature".

One reason is that we're fairly confident that the range of languages currently known can't possibly represent the full panoply of what human languages are capable of being. For instance, default OVS word order is found only in a handful of obscure languages spoken by a few hundred people in a remote part of Amazonia. Had these gone extinct before linguists thought to study them, we might believe today that this typological possibility is simply not characteristic of human speech. But it was adopted for the conlang Klingon (on account of its rarity IRL), which humans learn to speak readily enough. So, in the absence of documentation of those languages, this would be prima facie evidence that the observed lack of OVS was accidental and not due to cognitive limitations.

The aforementioned Lojban was actually created as part of an experiment in human cognition. The question was whether humans could actually learn to speak a language which was based on the very unnaturalistic rules of formal logic. The preliminary answer is "Yes" (given the actual existence of speakers conversant in Lojban) "but not very easily" (given their rarity and the near-absence of fluent speakers).

That said, I think much of the opposition is moral: Human languages, an irreplaceable part of human patrimony, are vanishing at an alarming rate. Given how sparse the resources are which are dedicated to linguistics as it is, the thought of "wasting" any of them on created languages while real ones are disappearing faster than we can record them is deeply upsetting to many people. Of course, the reply to this is that it's not really a zero-sum game. For many people, it's not a choice between studying, say, Klingon and Hixkaryana but between Klingon and nothing at all. It's conlangs which get them interested in language learning at all (and which just possibly might constitute the gateway to getting them interested in Okrand's real-world models).
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby mōdgethanc » 2014-03-08, 2:37

Levente wrote:One reason I could think of is that constructed language mainly work like living ones.
It's like "Why create it in a lab when you can study it in nature".

And modge: What's your problem with European languages?
Nothing - half the languages I'm interested in learning are European. I just think that modelling a conlang after Standard Average European (especially the Romance family) is extremely tired and boring, and there are much more interesting things that can be done with conlanging (see linguoboy's examples of Klingon and Lojban). This is your criticism of conlangs too, right?

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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Levike » 2014-03-10, 18:04

In my case every language I'm interested in is European.
My most exotic language is Portuguese, so I don't really go far.

I like conlangs, it's a good hobby if you're into it, ... but learning about them, I don't know.

Personally I want to make one of my own
but until now the only thing I have is the name.
And a very small amount of grammar and vocab.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby razlem » 2014-03-11, 16:19

I just think it's odd that people don't consider two or more areas of research. Like if I begin studying conlangs, I'm going to study conlangs and nothing else for the rest of my life. When, in fact, I've been studying conlangs AND researching a dead language in addition to work and school. Amateurs. (except I'm not even getting paid, lol)

I found out yesterday there's actually going to be a class next semester at LSU about artificial languages, taught by a PhD candidate doing artificial intelligence linguistic research. Should be very interesting.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby md0 » 2014-03-12, 15:36

This is borderline offtopic, but do you know of any linguistics podcasts?
I know Speculative Grammarian has a podcast of their articles but they are a) parody and b) just audio versions of their written stuff.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Luís » 2014-03-12, 22:34

There used to be a podcast called "The Linguistics Podcast", but I think it's over now. However, you can still find the old episodes on Youtube. Also, there's the Conlangery podcast. It's a podcast about conlanging, but most of their episodes are about more general language features (e.g. The Sapir-Worf hypothesis, face and politeness (sociolinguistics), language typology, vowel harmony, relative clauses, etc.)
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Koko » 2014-03-13, 2:15

The only thing that bothers me is that if a language is dying, there's obviously good reasons for it. Why study something that's defective? Pointless.

And one might say that it's then pointless to study a language like Latin, but this doesn't really suit my argument because it isn't necessarily dead, it's just evolved and changed, like Old English into Modern English.

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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Dormouse559 » 2014-03-13, 2:41

Koko wrote:The only thing that bothers me is that if a language is dying, there's obviously good reasons for it. Why study something that's defective? Pointless.
What makes a language defective? Any sources for this knowledge?
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby linguoboy » 2014-03-13, 3:34

Koko wrote:The only thing that bothers me is that if a languagespecies is dying, there's obviously good reasons for it. Why study something that's defective? Pointless.

Hope you like living on a planet with no more honeybees.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Koko » 2014-03-13, 6:51

To study isn't the same as to save. When studying, you're just observing the event; I don't see the connection between a language and a species. Just as there's very little connection between studying and saving, which is what you(Linguoboy) seem to suggest.

Dormouse559 wrote:
Koko wrote:The only thing that bothers me is that if a language is dying, there's obviously good reasons for it. Why study something that's defective? Pointless.

What makes a language defective? Any sources for this knowledge?


I may have made a poor choice of words. What I meant was that if a language is dying, there's only one reason why it is: the parents aren't teaching their children their native language. What mpre is there to research. Sure it's sad, but it's not very humane to tell the parents of all the endangered languages to teach their children that particular language, now is it? While with a conlang, or an evolved language, there is much more to study and learn about. With a conlang, it is both psychological and linguistical. You are studying the thoughts of another and the choices of phonemes and grammar and such. With an evolved language like Latin, you see how languages do just that(evolve). Then the researcher can form ideas about how their language could be in the next fifty years or even be able to discover more ancient families. What can you do with an endangered lguage? Not much, only watch it die while people with absolutely no connections with said language attempt to learn it and pass it on to their children.

Now the question is: "Is it more worthwhile to study a conlang?" Well, if you agree(which I don't think many will), the answer is indeed.

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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Saim » 2014-03-13, 14:30

Koko wrote:The only thing that bothers me is that if a language is dying, there's obviously good reasons for it. Why study something that's defective? Pointless.


Wrong. All languages spoken as mother tongues are equal in terms of expressiveness, complexity and richness. Just look at the development of pidgins into creoles - pidgins go from limited, heavily variable codes to full-blown complex languages when children start to adopt them as their mother tongue.

And one might say that it's then pointless to study a language like Latin, but this doesn't really suit my argument because it isn't necessarily dead, it's just evolved and changed, like Old English into Modern English.


Correct. Dying languages are not just "dying", they're being murdered. Latin and Old English just changed and evolved naturally.

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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby md0 » 2014-03-13, 14:40

Luís wrote:There used to be a podcast called "The Linguistics Podcast", but I think it's over now. However, you can still find the old episodes on Youtube. Also, there's the Conlangery podcast. It's a podcast about conlanging, but most of their episodes are about more general language features (e.g. The Sapir-Worf hypothesis, face and politeness (sociolinguistics), language typology, vowel harmony, relative clauses, etc.)

Cool, thanks. The Conlagery one has a very nice variety of topics.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby Saim » 2014-03-13, 14:44

Koko wrote:I may have made a poor choice of words. What I meant was that if a language is dying, there's only one reason why it is: the parents aren't teaching their children their native language.
What mpre is there to research.


What are the reasons behind that? They're economic and political. Often (usually, even) these communities have been marginalised by the actions of empires and nation-states. Many times this has come from population exchanges and ethnic cleansing with the explicit aim of ethnocide (look at Stalin's deportations, look at the Native American reservations of the US and the forced enrollment of children into unforgivingly Anglophone boarding schools, as well as dozens of other examples throughout history).

"What more is there to research"? Have you ever heard of sociolinguistics and language normalisation? What about the limited language knowledge of semi-speakers, is that worth researching? What about comparative linguistics, how do we know what kind of features exist in natural languages without researching them all?

Sure it's sad, but it's not very humane to tell the parents of all the endangered languages to teach their children that particular language, now is it?


Just as humane as it is to tell a child who's been purposefully driven to suicide by his peers not to kill himself. Anyway, you're approaching this as if language normalisation was something that comes from the outside - any success has to come from the active involvement of the community itself. Foreign linguists can only develop materials, give information on language shift to the community, make sure it's recorded so future generations at least have some access to it...

What can you do with an endangered lguage? Not much, only watch it die while people with absolutely no connections with said language attempt to learn it and pass it on to their children.


Language shift is theoretically reversible. There are a few local cases that we can analyse and try and repeat in places where the autochtonous language is more heavily endangered.

Now the question is: "Is it more worthwhile to study a conlang?" Well, if you agree(which I don't think many will), the answer is indeed.


I think learning in general is worthwhile. I'm not much of a fan of the "either conlangs or endangered languages" dichotomy.
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Re: Linguistics thread

Postby razlem » 2014-03-13, 14:47

Koko wrote: What can you do with an endangered lguage? Not much, only watch it die while people with absolutely no connections with said language attempt to learn it and pass it on to their children.

What an ignorant statement. Of course the people have a connection to the language. It's the language of their ancestors and their culture. Languages do not just "die" because people get tired of using them. Indigenous languages of the Americas have been systematically eliminated by governments trying to impose European culture. Children were severely punished for speaking their language in schools. Fear of "being Indian" prevented parents from teaching their children the native language and culture.

Studying an indigenous language is a way of studying the history and culture of people that were victims of genocide.
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